Washougal School Board OKs budget, predicts ‘tough decisions’ ahead

Superintendent Mary Templeton: ‘We will continue to have budget challenges’

Washougal School Board members approved the Washougal School District’s budget for the 2023-24 school year during its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 25, but most of their discussions revolved around their concerns about the district’s financial state in 2025, 2026 and 2027.

District leaders and board members predicted that the district will have to make some “tough decisions” in the next several years to compensate for increasing expenditures and decreasing revenues.

“We will continue to look for ways to reduce our spending,” WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “We want to make sure that we’re clear with our stakeholders, internal and external, that we will continue to have budget challenges. And that will require us to make some hard decisions, just like we did in the spring. We were very lucky and fortunate that we got to keep our entire team with us, and all of our employees have jobs.”

“But as we look at that projected deficit coming into next year, we will continue to be looking for ways to reduce our expenditures, and that’s going to require flexibility, grace and a lot of communication,” Templeton said.

Kris Grindy, the school district’s financial director, told Washougal School Board members that her projections indicate the district’s ending fund balance will decline during the next several years, from 8% in 2023-24 to 6% in 2024-25 and 5% in 2025-26 and 2026-27.

“I just think it’s worth noting that we are signaling that there’s some tough decisions to be made,” board president Cory Chase said. “Our income is not going to match what our expenditures are. We know that costs are rising, and the environment isn’t what it used to be. I just hope that everybody’s prepared. I am OK with adopting this budget as presented right now because I do know that you guys are all recognizing and seeing what’s coming. It’s important to recognize that 5% doesn’t really cover a month’s worth of expenditures. That’s not where we should be operating.”

Templeton said the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction requires districts to carry an ending fund balance of at least 3%, and a Washougal School Board resolution requires the district to carry an ending fund balance of at least 6%.

“(Five percent) is not a comfortable number,” Washougal School Board Vice President Angela Hancock said.

Board member Chuck Carpenter said the district was likely going to face “a tough couple of years.”

“I know our focus is on this coming year, but the projections for the next two years are really concerning because we are going to have (increased) expenditures during a time of a possible recession,” Carpenter said.

Templeton and Grindy told the Board that their projections are based off of enrollment and expenditure information, and are subject to change. However, the 2024-25 school year is projected to “require additional budget reductions, including staffing positions,” according to a document on the WSD’s website.

“I do think that at some point, we’ll have to start making some really tough decisions on what we’re going to do in the future, or if we’re going to make changes to our minimum fund balance, or (reevaluate) our board goals around financing and making sure that our budget aligns with (those goals),” Grindy said.

The 2023-24 budget projects the district will receive $50.39 million in revenues and spend $50.45 million from its general fund.

About 86% of those expenditures will cover educator salaries and benefits, with the remaining 14% paying for materials, supplies and other costs.

Like many other Southwest Washington school districts, including the Camas School District, student enrollment declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. WSD projects its full-time enrollment will be 2,689 students during the 2023-24 school year — down from the 2,743 students in 2022-23.

The 2023-24 budget approved by the school board this week includes funding for extracurricular activities such arts, drama, music, athletics and clubs; nursing services; the district’s “College in High School,” dual language, transitional kindergarten, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), early learning and preschool programs; professional learning communities; culinary services; staff wellness; communications; and “market-rate” salaries for educators.

The state allocates $79,944 for every certificated staff member in Washington’s public school districts. WSD’s average 2023-24 salary for a full-time certificated staff member is $103,077.